Fingers Crossed for the Endangered Literature Class
With her long purple dress, aqua hair, and strong spirit, Professor Bridgette Robinson walks into Santa Monica College's (SMC) Drescher Hall 212, greets her English 1 class, and begins to read along to Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors’ novel “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir." She easily commands the attention of the room; her students sit on the edge of their seats listening.
“We are all the same because we are all made of stardust," She explains to her students.
Robinson teaches on a platform of compassion. Inspired by African American writers of past and present, she hopes to encourage her students to not only realize there is more to literature than Shakespeare, but also encourages them to expand their humanity.
Her English 34 class, Afro-American Literature, was nearly canceled this semester due to low enrollment — something not uncommon among ethnic study classes. Robinson reports her class is diverse in every aspect, with most students being English majors. According to articulation agreements from Assist, ethnic literature courses aren’t required to transfer to a UC or CSU for common majors, like English. With the exception of ethnic studies majors, English 34 is often neglected because it doesn’t fit into most transfer pathways.
The work the course entails is also a factor for low enrollment, Robinson believes, “The idea of talking about race in a major way is scary for a lot of us.” In addition, Afro-American Literature is not offered every semester at SMC.
Erika Davis, an African-American studies major, expresses that as a transfer student she had difficulty trying to enroll in English 34; the administration wouldn’t approve her English classes from her previous college.
Although Robinson advocated for Davis’s enrollment, she says, “I still had to go through hoops and hoops to get in.”
Luckily, Davis was the final enrollee and ultimately saved English 34 this semester; allowing Robinson to continue to spread her knowledge in African-American literature.
In an interview for The Atlantic, Camille Z. Charles, a sociology and Africana studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, states, “All students need ethnic studies to unlearn watered-down versions of historical events and learn America’s inconvenient and necessary truths.”
Alexis Green, communications major and English 34 student, agrees, “I think it’s important for all SMC students to get a different perspective because you never know what you can learn.”
Robinson's course revolves around five texts that showcase the African American experience through multiple different viewpoints and time periods. Writers James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, and Jesmyn Ward are the focal point of the class.
Robinson, with her fingers crossed, reveals how she hopes to increase enrollment for future semesters: “Even if we only offered it once a year, if we advertised it as such, right, if we said “hey, every spring take African-American lit with us,” now we can market it that way, we know it's coming, students know it's coming they can plan, the counselors know it’s coming, they can plan with the students to kind of set their pathway out.”